“I’m worried sick,” my friend confided in me yesterday as we sat in one of the ubiquitous links of those coffee chains that have sprinkled themselves will over every city in the world.
The cause of my friends worry was an upcoming medical procedure. It seems he had achieved a chronological milestone – reached a certain age – and his family doc felt that the time was ripe to refer him to a GI specialist who would schedule a colonoscopy. The date for this event has been set for 7:30am on Tuesday of next week.
Now please bear in mind that the sole reason for this test was because my friend was now a certain age. My friend had not presented with symptoms of illness or discomfort, all he did was celebrate a birthday.
In other words this test was just routine.
And my friend was worried sick.
A great deal of our time together was spent with him “what iffing” every imaginable disease.
I tried to lighten up the mood by pointing out that his time would be better spent worrying about the risk of brain damage from the 80 foot hose they were going to shove up his you-know-what.
Apparently that’s not funny.
His intense focus on worrying despite not having any idea what he should worrying about reminded me of several people I’ve interacted with over the past few weeks.
These folks all work for the same organization which has recently undergone a change of leadership.
The leader of this organization retired recently and his successor took over the reins of the organization a few weeks ago.
Not much has changed since her arrival and, indeed, much of her time has been spent asking a lot of questions and getting to meet many of the staff members.
Despite this, many of these folks have shared with me how worried they are about what may happen within the organization.
Bear in mind that they have absolutely no information to lend credence to any of those many things that worrying about.
And the more they allow their imaginations to run rampant with conjecture, the more they worry and the more stressed they become.
To add pressure to those doing all this worrying there’s a constant stream of ever-changing rumours surrounding what she may, or may not do within the organization.
Like all the other “what if’s” they are worrying about, these rumours too are circulating without any supportive data attached to them.
In other words, just like my friend, these folks are choosing to worry even though they have no idea what specifically they should be worrying about.
When I pointed this out both to my friend and to these folks during several meetings over the past few weeks I received the same response, “it’s human nature to worry.”
I don’t know if that is true and I guess it is possible that it is human nature to worry but even if it is, it just makes no sense.
I truly get that some of us are terrified of the unknown and that the mere thought of change, to many, is enough to send their blood pressure into the stratosphere.
But why do we do this?
We have frequently talked about the fact that our lives exist in one place and one place only – our heads. We have acknowledged that the impact of each experience we encounter comes not from the experience itself but rather from the meaning we place upon it.
And these poor folks have somehow convinced themselves that the reality they are presently experiencing – the unknown plus rampant, unfounded speculation – means they need to expend vast amounts of negative energy engulfed in worry.
It’s an interesting equation: unknown + rumour = worry.
And it doesn’t need to mean that at all.
The point I’m trying to make is this: my friend who is “worried sick” is filling his days worrying about a medical test, and what it may reveal. There is no data to suggest that this test will show him to be in anything other than perfect health and yet he is working diligently at damaging that health through his incessant worrying.
And those folks whose organization has just welcomed a new leader are doing exactly the same thing to themselves.
If it makes sense to worry about the unknown then we should all be worrying about whether we will make it through the night, whether we’ll be hit by a bus, whether our next meal will contain lethal doses of bacteria, whether we will drown in the bathtub, whether the elevator we just stepped into will fall 30 stories taking us along for the ride and 1 million other things that could happen that would radically alter, or end, our lives.
And yet few, if any, of us spend much time worrying about these things because we have absolutely no data to suggest that they will happen to us.
And so, if we must worry, then let’s agree that for the sake of our mental health we will only begin the process of worrying once we know conclusively and specifically what it is we need to worry about.
Let’s also acknowledge one other simple fact: worrying is perhaps the least effective strategy for dealing with negative situations. Worry does nothing to change outcomes, it only weakens us.
But if, as several people have told me recently, that it is human nature to worry, then please promise yourselves that you will only worry about things truly worth worrying about.
Like, for example, how you can help me turn this blog into an enormously profitable business venture.
That would be high quality worrying.
And great use of your time.
Till we read again.